Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published the Manifesto of the Communist Party in 1848. By no means did Marx and Engels set out to read the fortune of future capitalist societies, or to develop some high-resolution photograph of future international political economy amongst states. Nor did they predict the various incarnations of communism that would arise after their time. Instead, the manifesto was a commissioned work; its intention was to communicate the purposes and platform of the Communist League, an international political party started in 1847 London.
The manifesto’s investigation of historical and then class struggle included polemicizing capitalism and the capitalist mode of production. Not surprisingly, the manifesto remains integral to the comprehension and investigation of a globalizing economy and roiling world order. The industrial revolution of a Modern West has since carried capitalism, like the malignant contents of a virus, injected into the nuclei of different governments its inhuman system, and sought thusly to possess centralized power everywhere for the benefit of the global hegemon, the 1%, the plutocracy. Saliently so, the United States has made itself a vector for a super strain of this selfsame, mutating capitalist virus. Now, it enjoys its last gasps of hegemony, stamping the world with its seal of war and free trade ad nauseam.
The paradigm persists amongst many of the 21st century’s living, however, that socialism will replace capitalist society though the populations that Marx and Engels treated in their language have changed in makeup. Arguably, another read of the authors’ words gives life to virtually the same message today, in 2015, which it did in the 19th century. What is more, today’s targeted demographic shares much of the proletarian struggles of Marx’s time—however different the particulars may be. So, indeed, the history of global society still is a “history of class struggles.” As such, it is paramount to explore some reasons why the impetuses for publishing the Communist Manifesto of so many years ago still matter.
Mateo Pimentel lives on the Mexican-US border. You can follow him on Twitter @mateo_pimentel.
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Consider what Marx and Engels say of Modern Europe’s bourgeois society, which arose from a decomposing feudal society. Bourgeois society had not “done away with class antagonisms” endogenous to feudalism, but rather, it “established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones.” Though certainly not alone in reinventing this axiomatic condition between rich and poor, the US stands perhaps head and shoulders above other nations in its efforts to maintain a global hegemony, especially after World War II. US domination has heretofore translated as global markets that deify wealth and eschew human development or welfare, and which also extract anything of worthwhile material value.
“US domination has heretofore translated as global markets that deify wealth and eschew human development or welfare…”
Soon after the Second World War, America preyed on decolonizing nations via military and capitalist inroads on the Third World. The US did not want any pushback from groups that might radicalize during their overthrow of colonialism, thus precluding the commodification of goods or the extraction of saleable materials. To be clear, after WWII, American industry had the world to gain; so the US sided with militarized nationalism in decolonizing states specifically to resist the abolition of private property there, or manifold other communist proclivities that might emerge. America spent this system into existence, dubbing the process “modernization,” or “development.”
Well before the Second World War, however, Marx and Engels would note the “discovery of America” advanced capitalist industry alongside a quickly globalizing world of interlacing markets. As a market itself, America provided fertile ground for the development of commerce, navigation, and communication. In turn, Marx and Engels claim such development had “reacted on the extension of industry…” Capital thereby increased “in the same proportion the bourgeoisie developed,” they wrote, and synchronously “pushed into the background every class handed down from the Middle Ages.”
Does the US, in 2015, seek to advance capitalist industry among a seemingly subjugable population of the world’s poor who live pocketed away in the nation-states of the capitalism-oppressed Third World? For those who would thunder a resounding and patriotic “no,” well, what then might be an appropriate apology for the post-WWII American penchant for war and economic disenfranchisement all around the world? Would the underlying rationale broach the defense of security? Of freedom? Stable markets? Prosperity? Private property? One should question just how necessary a system like capitalism truly is if America need yet sell it from behind loaded guns, or punctuate it with bullets so as to maintain an equilibrium of acquiescence among weaker states that it seeks to relegate with free trade agreements.
Marx and Engels write that the political advance of the bourgeoisie followed from “[e]ach step in the development” of that class. They write that from the launch of Modern Industry, “and of the world-market,” the bourgeoisie had “conquered for itself, in the modern representative State, exclusive political sway.” In 21st century America, estimated spending on the country’s 2014 midterm political elections reported spending estimates upwards of $4 billion. There is no reason to believe that spending in upcoming presidential elections will not also exceed the amounts of previous years. By asserting in 1848 that the “executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie,” Marx and Engels throw down the gauntlet for Americans yet: Does money determine the American democracy? If so, then who has that money? The moneyed class does.
Just as Marx and Engels argued from their own European nexus, the American bourgeoisie of 2015 also embraces “that single, unconscionable freedom – Free Trade,” especially in lieu of the “numberless indefensible chartered freedoms” that a healthy democracy requires. On behalf of “exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions,” the authors write the bourgeoisie of their time had “substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.” Today, America is at war with terror the world over, and the popularly misconceived and emotionally charged American crusade against “fundamentalist Islam” certainly reeks of religious and political illusion.
Today, the survival of the American bourgeoisie yet requires that it that it revolutionize instruments of production, the relationions of production, and society as a whole. There is yet a need to incessantly expand into markets, to expand markets for goods, to exploit the world-market, and to give “a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country,” just as Marx and Engels observed. National industries face certain destruction with the emergence of new, private ones, and the “introduction” of such private industries still contour life and death “for all civilized nations,” and which yet extract “raw material from the remotest zones” for products that get consumed “in every quarter of the globe.” New wants continue to replace old ones. Economic intercourse still constitutes the “universal interdependence of nations.” The adoption of the capitalist class’ mode of production yet “creates a world after its own image.”
What Marx and Engels effectively benchmarked with the Communist Manifesto was a moment in time when factors that buoyed the dominion of the oppressors over oppressed reached crystallization in changing Europe. Nevertheless, so much of the content of their manifesto re-reads and so authentically resounds with readers today. Not surprisingly, Marx and Engels’ words serve a timely purpose for millions of Americans that egress out of 2014. There still exists a grueling battle between the unquestioned sanctity of private property and that of a human future. Nations and capitalist classes still war to preserve power where it is concentrated, and thus to amplify the distortion between wealthy overseers and the wage-slaves their system treats as little more than oft-rebellious druids of flesh. America largely spearheads that battle for continued oppression, whether Iraq, Eurasia, or Venezuela. So long as this history continues into 2015, so, too, will Marx and Engels’ 1848 Communist Manifesto remain essential for consideration.